Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo has launched for lung cancer in the UK, becoming the first immunotherapy available for the disease in the country.

The launch follows EU approval for the indication earlier this month.

Opdivo (nivolumab) belongs to a class of drugs known as PD-1 inhibitors, which are currently leading the charge in the promising area of immuno-oncology.

Dr Sanjay Popat, consultant thoracic medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden explains why the new launch is so exciting: “Many patients at advanced stages of this disease are unable to tolerate the side effects of chemotherapy and some patients will choose to discontinue treatment. 

“The launch of Opdivo is a milestone that changes the treatment landscape from one where existing treatment options have offered modest improvements in survival, to one where lung cancer patients have an additional option which can significantly extend survival.”    

The drug is already available in the UK for the treatment of melanoma, but lung cancer is a far larger market.

This may therefore be troubling news to BMS’ main PD-1 rival Merck, whose Keytruda is still only available in the UK for melanoma, and then only through the Early Access to Medicines to medicines scheme.